Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The 20 Best New York Area Concerts of 2010

This is the list we like best for so many reasons. When we founded this blog in 2007, live music was our raison d’etre, and after all that time it’s still the biggest part of the picture here. While along with just about everyone else, our 100 Best Albums of 2010 and 100 Best Songs of 2010 lists have strayed further and further from what the corporate media and their imitators consider the “mainstream,” this is still our most personal list. As the year blusters to a close, between all of us here, we’ve seen around 250 concerts – the equivalent of maybe 25% of the shows on a single night here in New York. And the ones we saw are vastly outnumbered by the ones we wanted to see but didn’t. The Undead Jazz Festival, where all the cheesy Bleecker Street clubs suddenly became home to a horde of jazz legends and legends-to-be? We were out of town. We also missed this year’s Gypsy Tabor Festival way out in Gerritsen Beach, choosing to spend that weekend a little closer to home covering punk rock on the Lower East, latin music at Lincoln Center and oldschool soul in Williamsburg. We worked hard to cast a wide net for all the amazing shows that happened this year. But there’s no way this list could be anything close to definitive. Instead, consider this a sounding, a snapshot of some of the year’s best moments in live music, if not all of them. Because it’s impossible to rank these shows in any kind of order, they’re listed chronologically:

The Disclaimers at Spike Hill, 1/2/10 – that such a potently good band, with two charismatic frontwomen and so many catchy, dynamic soul-rock songs, could be so ignored by the rest of the New York media and blogs speaks for itself. On one of the coldest nights of the year, they turned in one of the hottests sets.

Jenifer Jackson at Banjo Jim’s, 1/21/10 – on a welcome if temporary stay from her native Austin, the incomparably eclectic, warmly cerebral tunesmith assembled a killer trio band and ripped joyously through a diverse set of Beatlesque pop, Americana and soul songs from throughout her career.

Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at Merkin Concert Hall, 2/4/10 – Terry Riley’s guitarist kid opened with ambient, sometimes macabre soundscapes, followed by the world’s most entertaining retro 70s Peruvian surf band synching up amusingly and plaintively with two Charlie Chaplin films. Silent movie music has never been so fun or so psychedelic.

The New York Scandia String Symphony at Victor Borge Hall, 2/11/10 – the Scandia’s mission is to expose American audiences to obscure classical music from Scandinavia, a cause which is right up our alley. On a bitter, raw winter evening, their chamber orchestra sold out the house and turned in a frenetically intense version of Anders Koppel’s new Concerto Piccolo featuring hotshot accordionist Bjarke Mogensen, a deviously entertaining version of Frank Foerster’s Suite for Scandinavian Folk Tunes, and more obscure but equally enlightening pieces.

Masters of Persian Music at the Skirball Center, 2/18/10 – Kayhan Kalhor, Hossein Alizadeh and their ensemble improvised their way through an often wrenchingly powerful, climactic show that went on for almost three hours.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra playing Prokofiev and Shostakovich, 2/21/10 – like the Scandia, this well-loved yet underexposed ensemble plays some of the best classical concerts in New York, year after year. This was typical: a playful obscurity by Rienhold Gliere, and subtle, intuitive, deeply felt versions of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto along with Shostakovich’s dread-filled Fifth Symphony.

Charles Evans and Neil Shah at the Hudson View Lounge, 2/28/10 – February was a great month for us for some reason. Way uptown, baritone saxophonist Evans and pianist Shah turned in a relentlessly haunting, powerful duo performance of brooding, defly improvisational third-stream jazz.

AE at the Delancey, 3/8/10 – pronounced “ash,” Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s innovative duo vocal project interpolates Balkan folk music with traditional Appalachian songs, creating all kinds of unexpectedly powerful connections between two seemingly disparate styles. They went in and found every bit of longing, intensity and exquisite joy hidden away in the songs’ austere harmonies and secret corners.

Electric Junkyard Gamelan at Barbes, 3/20/10 – most psychedelic show of the year, bar none. Terry Dame’s hypnotic group play homemade instruments made out of old dryer racks, rubber bands of all sizes, trash cans and more – in a marathon show that went almost two hours, they moved from gamelan trip-hop to rap to mesmerizing funk.

Peter Pierce, Erica Smith, Rebecca Turner, Paula Carino, the Larch, Solar Punch, Brute Force, Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair, the John Sharples Band, the Nopar King and Out of Order at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY, 4/10/10 – this one’s the ringer on the list. We actually listed a total of 21 concerts on this page because even though this one was outside of New York City, it’s as good a choice as any for best show of the year, anywhere. In order of appearance: janglerock; haunting solo acoustic Americana; country soul; more janglerock; lyrical retro new wave; jamband music; a theatrical 60s survivor and writer of novelty songs; a catchy, charismatic noir rocker; a band that specializes in obscure rock covers; soul/funk, and an amazing all-female noiserock/punk trio to wind up twelve hours of music. And that was just one night of the festival.

Rev. Billy & the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir at Highline Ballroom, 4/18/10 – an ecstatic, socially conscious 25-piece choir, soul band and a hilarious frontman who puts his life on the line every time out protesting attacks on our liberty. This time out the cause was to preserve mountaintop ecosystems, and the people around them, in the wake of ecologically dangerous stripmining.

The Big Small Beast: Spottiswoode, Barbez, Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch, Bee & Flower and Botanica at the Orensanz Center, 5/21/10 – this was Small Beast taken to its logical extreme. In the weeks before he abandoned this town for Dortmund, Germany, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – creator of the Monday night Small Beast dark rock night at the Delancey – assembled the best dark rock night of the year with a mini-set from lyrical rocker Spottiswoode, followed by amazingly intricate gypsy-tinged instrumentals, Little Annie’s hilarious poignancy, and smoldering, intense sets from Bee & Flower and his own band.

The Grneta Duo+ at Bechstein Hall, 5/27/10 – Balkan clarinet titans Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski joined with adrenalinista pianist Alexandra Joan for a gripping, fascinating performance of Bartok, Sarasate, Mohammed Fairouz and a clarinet duel that stunned the crowd.

The Brooklyn What at Trash, 5/28/10 – New York’s most charismatically entertaining rock band, whose monthly Saturday show here is a must-see, roared through a characteristically snarling, snidely funny set of mostly new material – followed by Tri-State Conspiracy, the popular, noirish ska band whose first few minutes were amazing. Too bad we had to leave and take a drunk person home at that point.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 7/1/10 – Boston’s best rock band unveiled a darker, more powerpop side, segueing into one killer song after another just a couple of months prior to releasing their stupendously good second album, The Optimist.

Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, 7/2/10 – darkly psychedelic bandleader Bisi spun a swirling, hypnotic, roaring set, followed by Humanwine’s savagely tuneful attack on post-9/11 paranoia and then Nadler’s pensively captivating solo acoustic atmospherics.

Maynard & the Musties, Me Before You, the Dixons and the Newton Gang at Urban Meadow in Red Hook, 7/10/10 – the one Brooklyn County Fair show we managed to catch this year was outdoors, the sky over the waterfront a venomous black. We lasted through a spirited attempt by the opening band to overcome some technical difficulties, followed by rousing bluegrass from Me Before You, the twangy, period-perfect 1964 Bakersfield songwriting and playing of the Dixons and the ferocious paisley underground Americana rock of the Newton Gang before the rains hit and everybody who stayed had to go indoors to the Jalopy to see Alana Amram & the Rough Gems and others.

The Universal Thump at Barbes, 7/16/10 – amazingly eclectic pianist Greta Gertler and her new chamber pop band, accompanied by a string quartet, played a lushly gorgeous set of unpredictable, richly tuneful art-rock.

Etran Finatawa, los Straitjackets and the Asylum Street Spankers at Lincoln Center, 8/1/10 – bad segues, great show, a perfect way to slowly return to reality from the previous night’s overindulgence. Niger’s premier desert blues band, the world’s most popular second-generation surf rockers and then the incomparably funny, oldtimey Spankers – playing what everybody thought would be their final New York concert – made it a Sunday to remember.

Elvis Costello at the Greene Space, 11/1/10 – as far as NYC shows went, this was the best one we saw, no question – along with maybe 150-200 other people, max. Backed by his most recent band the Sugarcanes, Costello fielded questions from interviewer Leonard Lopate with a gleeful defiance and played a ferociously lyrical, assaultively catchy set of songs from his latest classic album, National Ransom

Zikrayat, Raquy & the Cavemen and Copal at Drom, 11/4/10 – slinky, plaintive Levantine anthems and Mohammed Abdel Wahab classics from Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat, amazingly original, potent Turkish-flavored rock and percussion music from Raquy & the Cavemen and then Copal’s trance-inducing string band dancefloor grooves.

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December 27, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, gypsy music, latin music, lists, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NYC’s Best Jazz Show Last Night Was at Barbes

The best jazz show in New York last night wasn’t at the Vanguard, or Lincoln Center, or the Blue Note: it was out in Park Slope at little Barbes. To say that it was fortuitous for those who crowded into the back room to see Terry Dame’s Monkey on a Rail is a bit of an understatement. In addition to leading the ridiculously psychedelic homemade-instrument collective Electric Junkyard Gamelan, Dame plays tenor sax in this all-female sextet. This was an all-star lineup: Jessica Lurie and Tina Richerson from the Tiptons Saxophone Quartet on alto and baritone, respectively, plus eclectic five-string bass guitarist Mary Feaster, Pam Fleming (of Fearless Dreamer, Hazmat Modine and the Ayn Sof Orchestra) on trumpet plus Dame’s drummer cohort Lee Frisari from the gamelan band. The group recorded an album sometime in the early zeros – 2002 maybe? – and since then have played about two shows, this being one of them. Which might explain the unselfconscious energy and joy that drove the set.

Dame’s compositions for this group proved just as playfully witty and packed with surprise as her gamelan pieces. They opened with a drolly expansive, trad yet funky number with the tongue-in-cheek title I, Frank Sinatra – the only thing missing was a crime movie motif. That idea they took care of – sort of – with the next one, Watching Margaret, which as Dame explained took its inspiration from observing her dog at the run in the park. But it’s a stalker theme – those dogs sure keep an eye on each other! Feaster’s bass held to a hypnotic groove as Lurie added wary, bop-tinged flourishes. Roscoe Cairo, with its tightly catchy klezmer clusters gave the the rhythm section a workout. Then the slinkiness returned with Miss E. Grooves, moving from sultry to soaring. Stupid Things Lovers Say was full of unexpected twists and turns, and a launching pad for one of Richerson’s long, mysterious, almost imperceptibly crescendoing solos: she made it absolutely impossible to figure out where it was going to end up, in the process driving the tension almost to breaking point.

Feaster had a feast with Tragic Italian Love Machine (don’t you love these titles?), its sexy/sinister solo intro and low-register countermelodies. They closed with their eponymous anthem, another funky, shapeshifting mini-suite, Dame smartly handing the closing solo to Fleming who rather than going for the obvious crescendo, restrained herself to a triumphant majesty while Frisari slammed her hi-hat as if she was trying to shatter it. Let’s hope this underexposed unit gets together for another show in less time than it took for this one to happen.

December 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Music NY 2010

Nice to see the organizers of New York’s version of La Fete de la Musique get their own site going this year. We went through it and cherrypicked the best shows we could find, just for you, if you’re feeling up for a little wandering around town during lunch, or after work – or if you’re one of the legions of the unemployed here, why not make a day out of it? As far as we can tell (last year’s master calendar only listed a fraction of the day’s actual performances), these are your best bets for all the free shows happening Monday, June 21. Note that many ambitious acts offer you more than one chance to see them. As far as locations are concerned, Monday’s best lineup is at the cube at Astor Place starting at a quarter to one with the Xylopholks, Electric Junkyard Gamelan at 1:45, Balthrop Alabama at 3:30, Black Sea Hotel at 4:30 and then Pearl and the Beard at 5:15. Also worth checking out later: the country/blues night at 68 Jay St. Bar, the all-day funk extravaganza at Rose Bar and the reggae night at SOB’s. Fortuitously, you can also go to the Punk Island show and not miss a thing because that’s on Sunday starting at 10 AM (early arrival advised) and going til five with DOA, Blanks 77, Hub City Stompers and all kinds of other excellent bands.

At noon fun and innovative latin soul/bugalu revivalists Spanglish Fly plays outside Rose Bar; at 6 they’re at the park at 2nd Ave. and E 10th St.

At noon French reggae/dub crew Dub. Inc. play City Winery; at 8 they’re at SOB’s

At noon powerpop guitar god Pete Galub plays Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.

At noon jazz chanteuse Carolyn Leonhart and her bass player dad Jay Leonhart play the eco-houseware store at 432 Myrtle Ave. in Ft. Greene; at 1:30 they move to 350 Myrtle.

At half past noon five-string Celtic fiddler Cady Finlayson and guitarist Vita Tanga play Irish music at 40 Wall St.; they move to the NYPL branch at 112 E 96th St. at 3 PM

Starting at 1 PM avant garde composer Iannis Xenakis’ trancey, intense percussion piece Oresteia will be performed at the Swedish Marionette Cottage Theatre in Central Park, enter on the west side at 79th St and follow the signs (or the noise). His Persephassa will be performed at the lake in Central Park (enter on the west side, 72nd St.) at 3:30 and 5:30

12:45 PM furry-suited vibraphone ragtime swing outfit the Xylopholks play the cube at Astor Place.

1 PM the Famous Accordion Orchestra play Brooklyn Bridge Park, Plymouth and Main St. in Dumbo – note that this is a state park so be careful if you’re drinking alcohol.

1:45 PM Electric Junkyard Gamelan – who played one of the most amazing shows we’ve seen all year – at the cube at Astor Place.

2 PM popular synth-pop dance duo Hank and Cupcakes play at the Loving Cup Cafe, 93 N 6th St. in Williamsburg; they seem to be doublebooked with funk mob Turkuaz, who are also playing outside Rose Bar on Grand St. at 6.

2 PM Mission on Mars plays psychedelic acoustic raga/rock/jazz hybrid stuff at the great hill in Central Park, enter on the west side at 103rd St.

2 PM Sukari play reggae and ska at Hunts Point Park, Lafayette Ave. and Edgewater Road in the Bronx

3 PM torchy, no-nonsense jazz/pop pianist Jeanne Marie Boes plays at Cafe Bar, 32-90 36th St. in Astoria; at 6 PM she’s at Brick Cafe at 30-95 33rd St. in Astoria.

3 PM literate, Springsteen-ish blue collar songwriter Al Lee Wyer plays Battery Park

3:30 PM Balthrop, Alabama plays at the cube at Astor Place followed by the wonderful, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel at 4:30 and then bracingly smart cello rockers Pearl & the Beard at 5:15

4 PM klezmer jazz crew Talat at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

4 PM Benny and the Ben-Ja-Min Band play reggae and ska at Beach 21st St. and the boardwalk in Far Rockaway; at 7 PM, they move to the Bushwick Project for the Arts, 304 Meserole St.

4 PM Chink Floyd at Tompkins Square Park – gotta love that name

4 PM violinist Karen Lee Larson and jam-oriented friends are at Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.

4:30 PM Gamelan Son of Lion plays Pier One at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Columbia Heights and Cranberry St. in Dumbo

5 PM the Hsu-Nami play ferocious, Asian-tinged metal/art-rock instrumentals with guitars and a Chinese erhu fiddle at the Peach Frog Companies (?), 136 N 10th St. in Williamsburg

6 PM tuneful, smart avant garde cellist/songwriter Jody Redhage & Fire in July at the Dumbo Arts Center, 30 Washington St. in Dumbo

7 PM the Voxare String Quartet at Bargemusic in Dumbo, program TBA

7 PM blazing, dark Balkan dance music from across the centuries with Raya Brass Band at Bubby’s at 1 Main St. in Dumbo

7 PM the satirical, playful, ageless Remy de Laroque plays Roosevelt Park in Chinatown, Houston and Christie.

7 PM artsy, clever accordion pop with Cassis & the Sympathies at Battery Park, moving to the Fulton Ferry Landing in Dumbo at 9

7 PM oldschool Brooklyn rock vet John Hovorka and his band at McGoldrick Park, Driggs Ave and Russell St. in Greenpoint

7 PM Num & Nu Afrika Project play roots reggae at Drastadub Studio, 58 W. 127th St.

7 PM the Old Rugged Sauce play deviously virtuosic guitar jazz standards at Mousey Brown Salon, 732 Lorimer St. in Williamsburg

7 PM punkish rockers Diabolique play Barretto Point Park, Tiffany St. and Viele Ave. in the Bronx – we saw them a couple of years ago and thought that by now they’d be even more interesting.

7:30 PM scathingly literate noir rocker LJ Murphy (completely mischaracterized on the MMNY site as “folk”) at 136 Milton St. in Greenpoint

7:30 PM Jan Bell’s soaring, haunting Americana band the Maybelles at 68 Jay St. Bar followed at 8:15 PM by hypnotic Mississippi hill country blues guitar genius Will Scott

7:30 PM Hungry March Band play Balkan brass music at Jackson Square, Horatio St. and 8th Ave. in the west village

8 PM lyrically dazzling, fiery art-rock band Changing Modes play Cafe Bar, 32-90 36th St. in Astoria

8 PM the phantasmagorical Carol Lipnik & Spookarama play the community garden at 346 E Houston between B and C

June 15, 2010 Posted by | blues music, classical music, concert, funk music, irish music, jazz, latin music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Norden Bombsight at the Delancey, NYC 3/22/10

Two days after declaring Electric Junkyard Gamelan to be the most original band in New York, we have another one for you: Norden Bombsight. Although they draw on plenty of well-known influences, there is no band in town who sound remotely like them. At this week’s Small Beast concert/salon at the Delancey, the five-piece group careened and pounded through a ferocious, frequently haunting 40-minute set that proved impossible to turn away from. They’re something of the missing link between Joy Division and Pink Floyd, like art-rock seen through the prism of punk, or punk rock with a noir, nineteenth century Romantic sensibility. You could call them goth, which would make sense considering how much they like ominous chromatic riffs, but their energy is pure punk – they seem to be dying to live a lot more than living to die.

With the combination of agile drummer Julian Morello (hmm…any relation to Joe?) and hypnotically intense percussionist Derrick Barnicoat (who did double duty quarterbacking their loops and sound effects), they have more stomp and clatter than most bands, which backfired during the first couple of songs as their guitar amps seemed to be misfiring. That actually worked out fine since bassist Jonathan Gundel’s snaky, bluesy lines, part Geezer Butler and part James Brown-era Bootsy, stood out and carried the melody while frontwoman Rachael Bell soared and snarled, clear and menacing above the din, moving between a tiny shortscale electric guitar and piano. The songs shifted shape constantly: early in the set, they launched into a funk groove that took an unexpected detour into a sneaky 5/4 interlude before crescendoing with a bass-driven early Sabbath feel. They were as messy as they were ornate, guitarist David Marshall building to a couple of fret-melting tremolo-picked noiserock solos that Barnicoat sent reeling off into the ozone (they used the same effect on Bell’s vocals in places for an extra eerie touch).

From the piano, Bell delivered a chilling 6/8 dirge strongly evocative of Botanica (whose frontman, Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch, had just returned from yet another European tour and was scheduled to play afterward), with a galloping, noisy instrumental break. A creepy Syd Barrett-inflected partita began with yet another catchy Gundel blues bass hook and morphed into a hypnotic, headlong Nektar-style stomp that went on for what seemed like ten minutes. They closed with a stately, elegaic 6/8 anthem which may be the only song ever written to memorialize West Haven, Connecticut (with the limitations of the space, it was hard to hear the vocals when the band cranked it up), complete with nasty white-noise explosion from the guitar, building to an outraged crescendo of voices. Definitely the best rock show we’ve seen this year, sonic issues and all. Norden Bombsight play Matchless in Williamsburg on May 6 at 10ish.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: Electric Junkyard Gamelan at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/20/10

If there’s a more original band in New York than Electric Junkyard Gamelan, we need to know about them. Their shtick is to take found objects and turn them into percussion instruments, all of them their own creations (they should patent them if they haven’t already). Among their creations tonight: the barp (a drying rack for clothing used as low-register percussion, strung with what looked like rubber bands); the terraphone (a clarinet with a regular reed mouthpiece fastened to a handmade body made from copper tubing); the clayrimba (a perfectly tuned marimba made from clay pots of various sizes) and the cachoptar, sort of a mbira (thumb piano) strung over a section of an old futon frame. The drum kit has kitchen pots in place of cymbals, a plastic pickle drum for a snare, a 20-gallon plastic trashcan for the kick, what looks like the bottoms of several aluminum Chinese takeout pans on a stand for a hi-hat…and a small cast iron skillet on a kick pedal for a cowbell. A discarded circular saw blade became a small gong; half of a school bell became another. Considering that the kit was originally assembled for and required two players, drummer Lee Frisari did a mind-bogglingly impressive job flailing around, half of what she was hitting completely out of her field of vision.

What did their show sound like? Psychedelic, hypnotic, impossible to sit still to. The back room at Barbes was packed but surprisingly, nobody was dancing, considering what a groove they laid down. True to their name, they’re gamelanesque: pointillistic, gently and incisively clattering but also crashing and bashing or slinking and swaying. Several of their songs were basically acoustic trip-hop instrumentals, almost parodies, except that in place of a cold, mechanical drum machine there were four warm bodies rotating betwen instruments. Considering that in Indonesia, gamelans are community organizations where everybody plays pretty much anything (New York’s own gamelan, Gamelan Dharma Swara, of which Electric Junkyard Gamelan’s frontwoman Terry Dame is a member, works the same way), they held true to tradition. Julian Hintz alternated between the aforementioned instruments and another with multicolored rubberbands strung between two wire hangers and rapped on their hip-hop flavored numbers, and didn’t embarrass himself – if he’s the one writing the lyrics, his worldview is smartly aware and his flow is effortlessly smooth, hardcore Brooklyn circa the here and now. One of their later numbers centered around a couple of pairs of Balinese cymbals striking up a ferocious clatter like New Years Day in Chinatown, which was borderline painful considering Barbes’ cozy confines; by contrast, the slinky Space Kitty worked permutations of a woozy bent-note melody on the cachoptar while Life on Mars (an original, not the Bowie song) was mesmerizing and impossible not to get lost in. They also did a funny, fun tribute to their touring van, Fred Beans. Even before the hip-hop lyric and the audience-response part came in, the pans and the gongs were playing off his name – another band’s vehicle should be so proud. They closed with their most Indonesian-sounding number of the night, complete with a big crashing crescendo followed by an impossible series of trick endings. The packed house screamed for an encore and got one, a fiery, conscious hip-hop tune. By now they’d been onstage for over an hour and a half and it was time for the next band – smartly, the waitress had turned on the AC, because considering how hard the four percussionists had been working, they needed it. Electric Junkyard Gamelan do a lot of live shows: watch this space for the next one.

March 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, James Ross and Joe Benzola, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and Elisa Flynn at the Delancey, NYC 6/29/09

Small Beast has taken to Mondays like a vulture on a carcass. The beef carcasses, i.e. hamburgers and hotdogs at the upstairs barbecue now carry a $5 pricetag, although it’s a fill-your-plate type deal (and the totally El Lay crowd up there looks like they can afford it). Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch, opened the night in the cool, darkened ground-level space as he always does, solo on piano. Since Small Beast is his event, he’s gotten a ton of ink here. Suffice it to say that if dark, virtuosic, unaffectedly intense piano with a gypsy tinge is something you might like, run don’t walk to this Monday night extravaganza. Although last night it wasn’t, it’s usually over before Rev. Vince Anderson gets going across the river, so if you’re really adventurous you can hit both shows. This time out Wallfisch ran through a rather touching Paul Bowles song about a fugitive, in French; a lickety-split version of a noir cabaret tune by his longtime collaborator, chanteuse/personality Little Annie; a Crystal Gayle cover done very noir, and Shira and Sofia, a Botanica tune about the original Joy Division, a couple of WWII era whores. Make love, not war is what the two are encouraging in their own completely over-the-top way, and a few in the audience did a doubletake when Wallfisch got to the chorus.

Multi-instrumentalist James Ross and percussionist Joe Benzola were next, playing hypnotic instrumentals that sounded something akin to the Dead jamming Space with Electric Junkyard Gamelan, with Benzola using a multitude of instruments including wooden flute, recorder, kazoo, and a small series of gongs in addition to his drum kit and then layering one loop on top of another for a Silk Road feel. They took awhile to get going, Ross playing a zhongruan, a Chinese lute with a biting tone like a higher-pitched oud. This was an improvisation, and when they hit their stride the crowd was very into it – avante garde though it was, there was a repetitive catchiness to it too. Ross eventually switched to electric guitar, winding up their brief set with a trancelike, drony number where he built a small wall of feedback as if to hold off the relentless procession of beats.

Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble then grabbed the crowd by the back of the neck and spun them in the opposite direction with a ferocity that was even more striking in contrast to the previous act’s quiet psychedelica. To find a worthy comparison to Beren, the former Die Hausfrauen frontwoman, you have to go into the icon section: Iggy Pop, Aretha, Umm Kalthum or Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello are a few who can match the raven-haired contralto siren’s unleashed, menacing intensity. Backed by two lead guitarists, a trombonist who doubled on keys and a pummeling rhythm section, Beren opened the set with anguished vocalese, part scream and part very reluctant acquiescence. There was no turning back after that. The band name is apt in that their grand guignol attack can be bluesily hypnotic, tinged with classical motifs (Beren played macabre piano on a couple of numbers) and if you take it to its extreme (this is very extreme music), there’s nobody more goth than this crew. But these goths don’t put on batwings and hug the wall, they come to pillage and avenge. A couple of their heavier, stomping numbers bore a little resemblance to Blue Oyster Cult, but Beren’s writing is more complex and cerebral, expertly switching between tempos, building inexorably to a roar of horror. Their last song grew ominously with a whoosh of cymbals and some beautifully boomy chord work on the intro by bassist Greg Garing into a careening, crashing gallop that ended with a noise jam, Garing throwing off a nasty blast of feedback.

That Elisa Flynn wasn’t anticlimactic playing in the wake of Hurricane Vera speaks for itself. In her own moody, pensive and equally dark way, she proved a match for Beren, in subtlety if not sheer volume. Flynn’s new cd Songs About Birds and Ghosts is one of the year’s best, and that comprised most of what she sang, playing solo on guitar, expertly working the corners of a compelling, wounded delivery that she’d occasionally turn up to a fullscale wail when she needed to drive a point home. Her guitar playing proved as smartly matched to the songs’ emotion as her vocals, alternating between hammering chords and stark fingerpicking, sometimes building an eerie undercurrent of overtones using her open strings. Her songs have considerable bitterness but also a wry wit, as well as a frequently majestic, anthemic feel that comes to the forefront when she uses 6/8 time (which is a lot). I’m Afraid of the Way I Go Off Sometimes, she said, took its title from an email she’d received from a friend a week before he went into rehab. She warned that a cover of The Pyramid Song by Radiohead might be awkward, but it was anything but, in fact even more haunting than the original with something of a Syd Barrett feel. A brand-new one called Shiver was potently angry, building to a tastily macabre chorus. She followed that with an understated version of the opening cut on the new album, Timber, a towering anthem (with a cool Blair Witch video up on youtube). She closed with No Diamond, something of a lullaby “to send you off to sleep,” she said, another pensive number in 6/8. By now, it was approaching one in the morning; had she kept playing, no doubt the crowd would have kept listening.

Small Beast continues next Monday, July 6 with Wallfisch, Spottiswoode and Pete Galub; Beren plays goth night at the Slipper Room on September 20; Flynn is at Sidewalk on July 14 at 8.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Music NY 2009 – The Top Shows or At Least a Few of Them

As with last year, the arduous task of keeping track of who’s playing where has become a debacle since Time Out NY’s music section is a one-person operation – and to be fair to Time Out, some of the acts playing outdoors somewhere in the five boroughs on the 21st may not have alerted the magazine. For lack of manpower (why don’t the organizers do it themselves? Is Time Out’s sponsorship money really THAT crucial, especially considering the puny amount of resources they contribute?), approximately 90% of the acts playing Make Music NY are NOT listed on Time Out’s master calendar (although if you search venue by venue, you’ll find hundreds more). So if you’re wondering if your favorite band’s doing anything that day, you ought to check their site or their myspace. On the basis of a look through what limited information Time Out actually has as well as some random sleuthing of our own, here’s a guide to some of the day’s most enticing shows, at least as many as we could find:

 

10 AM (yawn): How do you reassure Manhattan yuppies that they’ll be safe from the terrifying phenomenon known as punk music? Exile all the punk bands to Governors Island, where the festivities are supposed to start around ten in the morning (those must be all the Minor Threat types who don’t drink or get high) and ending at 5 PM sharp. The free ferry leaves on the half-hour from the slip at 11 South St., early arrival highly advised. Note that security will be fierce, and alcohol will be confiscated. Acts include Reagan Youth, the Blame, Blanks 77, countless others. On one level, it makes sense to separate by style i.e. the skate punk stage, ska-punk stage, hardcore stage, etc, but why separate all the female-fronted bands?

 

11:30 AM: dark, Siouxsie-esque rockers Her Vanished Grace at 187 Sackett St. between Hicks and Henry, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

 

Noon: Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra Outside Symphony Space, 95th and Broadway

 

Half past noon: captivatingly atmospheric chanteuse Lulla at 33rd St and Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens.

 

1 PM: Sami Abu Shumays of Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat has organized a Umm Kulthum singalong to take place in front of Rashid Sales in Brooklyn (155 Court Street, Brooklyn, corner of Pacific, 2/4 to Borough Hall or F to Bergen) starting at 1PM, open to all musicians, singers, and anyone who knows and loves the music of Umm Kulthum (the iconic Arab chanteuse and courageous activist) and can sing or play along! It will be somewhat informal, in the sense there’s no set list, no curfew. You can count on classics that everybody throughout the Middle East knows like Ghannili Shwayya, Alf Leyla, and Ana Fintizarek.

 

1 PM: ferocious, gypsy-inflected, fun rock/ska/punk en Espanol band Escarioka at Think Coffee, Bleecker and Bowery

 

2 PM: haunting, wrenchingly soulful noir rock trio the French Exit at Goodbye Blue Monday

 

2 PM: the hilarious, inspiring, carnivalesque and absolutely fearless noir songwriter/keyboardist/showman Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at Athens Square Park, 29th St and 30th Ave., Astoria, Queens

 

3 PM  a jazz showcase in tribute to the late Ghanaian percussionist Kofi Ghanaba (one of the first African-born musicians to find popularity in American jazz circles), starting with with Kwaku Martin Obeng, then at 4 PM Obo Addy and piano vet Randy Weston & African Rhythms and others at Dominick and Hudson Streets outside the Jazz Gallery.

 

Starting 3ish at Rose Bar in Williamsburg Mama Digdown’s Brass Band and then oldschool soul harmony sirens the Sweet Divines at around 5:30 or 6

 

3 PM New York’s original Balkan brass punks, Hungry March Band at the playground at Spring and Mulberry

 

3 PM Num & Nu Afrika play jazzy reggae at DRastadub Studio, 58 West 127th St, Harlem

 

3 PM sprawling oldtimey blues/country/roots juggernaut the Woes outside Spikehill

 

4 PM dark indie rock siren Randi Russo at Passout Records on Grand between Bedford and Berry in Williamsburg. If you’re planning on seeing the French Exit you should see her and vice versa.

 

4 PM the fascinating and hypnotic Electric Junkyard Gamelan in the community garden on the north side of Houston between B and C. They’re also at South St. Seaport on 6/22 and 6/29 at 3.  

 

4 PM the fiery, fun, jangly Any Day Parade – oldschool country meets paisley underground –  at Think Coffee, Bleecker at Bowery

 

5 PM Meta & the Cornerstones playing oldschool roots reggae with a Senegalese flavor at Trader Joe’s Wine Shop, 138 E 14th St, between Third Ave and Irving Pl. – be aware that heavy bus traffic including the odious M9 means the alarms that shriek as the doors open may drown out the music.

 

5 PM at the Old Stone House in Park Slope Bob Goldberg and the Accordion Forest premiering a new work by the Famous Accordion Orchestra.

 

5:30 PM the reliably surprising, edgy accordionist/chanteuse Cassis & the Sympathies outside Tavern on the Green, Central Park West and W 67th St,

 

6 PM smartly lyrical, blue-collar songwriter Al Lee Wyer at the park at First Ave and E 42nd St,

 

6 PM latin jazz flutist Carlos Jimenez and his Quartet at La Perla Garden, 78 W 105th St,

 

6:30 PM funk band the Pimps of Joytime at Washington Square Park

 

7:30 PM cabaret-pop chanteuse Jeanne Marie Boes outside Tavern on the Green Central Park West and W 67th St.

 

8:15 PM Gogol Bordello gypsy punk soundalikes Panonian Wave at 33rd St and Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens

June 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment